Friday, September 28, 2012

Rain, Rain, Go Away - 3 Bean Chili

     The rain started Sunday night.  A deep groan spread across the local area..."Oh no, it has started.  Say good-bye to the sun.  Get out the rain-boots."  In our household, a general malaise settled in upon us.  Dear Husband claims the days are already shorter here than they are in the States.  Dear Daughter whines just a bit more than usual.  It is harder to get up in the morning.  The rain stayed...and stayed...and stayed.  Then just as the sun began to gather enough courage to peek through the clouds yesterday afternoon, the bully dark clouds raced in and erased that possibility.  More rain dumped on us and the temperature dropped.

     Comfort food was needed.  Overripe bananas became banana bread.  The last of the carrots were transformed into carrot cake bread (again).  I spent the week restocking the freezer with Chicken and Sausage Gumbo, White Bean and Sausage Soup and Sunday (Spaghetti) Sauce.  Now, it is Friday and the rain has stopped and the sun is courageously shining.  So this note will be short as I need to be outside soaking up the rays before they inevitably disappear.
Come back soon, Sun!

     Lots of travel scheduled for the next few months.  So, while we need an adventure this weekend, it will need to be an easy one.   Not sure yet what the weekend will hold...

    In the meantime, a bit pot of Chili is on the stove - one hour into its four hour simmer.  This is our "go-to" comfort food and we needed it this week.

3 Bean Chili

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Excitement on a Quiet Weekend - Foie Gras on Toast

     This has been a quiet weekend - almost too quiet for us.  It is "neuer wein" season here and yesterday, we went in search of the new wine and its typical sidekick - onion tart.  We are all getting over colds and perhaps we should have remained at home...the outing did not go very well. (When we accomplish this task, I will write all about it as it is a fascinating subject.)

     Last night, our village had its annual Hanchenfest.  We have been waiting for this feast all summer.  In an effort to raise money for the local firestation, each year the village has a dinner serving grilled chicken and bratwurst.  We walked the short distance from our house to the fest, paid for two chickens and three beverages and sat down to chat with neighbors.  I should add that there were more Americans at the fest than Germans and it was a bit disconcerting.  As if by magic, the people around us seemed to instinctively know when the chickens were ready and very quickly, a long line appeared.  I waited a few minutes and then placed myself in the queue.  No sooner as I reached the head of the line, than I heard that there was only one chicken left - the next batch would not be ready for another two hours!  I took the one chicken, gave it Dear Daughter, who was naturally famished and settled for a bratwurst.  Needless to say, we didn't stay long.

     So we come to Sunday and it has been an great start.  We woke to crisp temperatures and clear skies.  Dear Husband and I lounged outside in the crisp morning air.  Finally around 9:45, Dear Daughter graced us with her presence.  Our intent for our late breakfast was to mimic an appetizer that we had earlier this summer at a restaurant in Paris.  This restaurant specialized in everything DUCK; duck confit, cassoulet, duck in a cherry sauce.  But the best item on the menu was the Foie Gras appetizer.  Sliced foie gras and pieces of dark bread were brought to the table.  Each table was equipped with its own small toaster.  You toasted your bread and once ready, placed a slice of foie gras on the top and finished it with a bit of sea salt scattered on top.  The heat of the toast warmed the foie gras and it almost melted in your mouth.  It was fabulous.

     So with our best bottle of Cremant (French sparkling wine), we enjoyed Foie Gras on toasts for our late breakfast.  It was the perfect beginning to the day.  After breakfast, we pulled out the IPADs to ready the Sunday NY Times.  But before starting, I checked a website that I have been checking regularly.  Each time over the last few months, I have been disappointed after checking the site.  But today, I saw the headline, "Burgundy:  More than mustard and red wine."  Being an article about France, I decided to read it.  Then I realized that I knew this article.   "OMG!  It is my article!"  I yelled to the family, "They did it, they did it!"  Obviously, they did not know what I was talking about.

     So without further fanfare, I give you the link:

     The Stars and Stripes (UK edition) published an article that I wrote about a recent trip to Burgundy. While I received no monetary compensation, it is a hoot to see one's writing in print.

     But as this weekend has been....there has to be a letdown...wait for it...wait for it...My last name is LORD not FORD...seriously!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Germany: Sunday Picnic Along the Moselle - 3 Quick and Easy Salads

     The weather was perfect this past weekend; brilliant sunshine and warm temperatures.  We had spent most of Saturday indoors cheering on Dear Daughter at the second of this season's swim meets.  We knew that on Sunday, we wanted to spend the day outside.  While we wake up early each  weekday, the sun is no longer peering through our windows.  It is a sure sign that the days are getting shorter and soon it will be dark... and cold... and rainy or snowy.   So for now, we grab the sunshine and warmth while we can.

     Keeping our drive time to less than ninety minutes, we realized that we had yet to explore another one of Germany's wine regions, the Moselle.  The Mosel River runs through Germany, Luxembourg and France and its wines are some of the best in all of Germany.  We decided to explore Bernkastel-Kues, which is one of the more touristy towns along the river.  It is also one of the prettiest.  Nestled along the river, the small town's cobblestoned streets, pointed houses and historic squares jut up against hillsides filled with vineyards.  It is quite picturesque and therefore, packed with tourists who arrive by car, by bike or by one of the popular riverboats.

     The drive only takes an hour and we quickly find parking and begin exploring.  Frankly, we were unprepared for the amount of people who shared our idea of spending the day outside.  The town was teeming with tourists; the outdoor cafes packed with couples drinking local wine.  However, walking through town, we realized how quaint and pretty is was and it would be a nice place to visit - perhaps in the evening when the boat tours have departed.

     Wanting to try some wine, we cross the bridge to the other side of the river and a much quieter side of town.  Walking along the river, we stop at the garden of a large home.  It turns out to be the tasting area for a local winery.  In the small garden area, several tables and chairs have been placed and the wine card shows about 20 different wines for tasting or purchase.  The prices are all quite reasonable, about 3 Euros for a 1/4 liter krug of wine.  We settle on two different Rieslings, Dear Husband's favorite grape plus a mixture of grape juice and sparkling water for Dear Daughter.

     Wine sampled, we realized that our stomachs were growling.  Not wanting to head back into the heart of the town, we found a nice picnic spot on the banks of the river.  As you may know, I am a fanatic about picnics.  In fact, my birthday present this year was a new picnic backpack and it is totally cool!  That morning, in anticipation of the weather , I had thrown some fresh ingredients into the bag along with drinks.  It looked like my Girl Scout preparation was going to come in handy.

     I really love picnics.  I like the communal aspect of the meal; the pace seems so much slower and enjoyable.  For today's meal, I had planned three simple salads to put together on-the-spot; Tomato and Mozzarella; Prosciutto and Melon and Serrano with Arugula, Parmesan and Balsamic Glaze.  Very simple, very communal and just right.  Served with a local Riesling and it was another  perfect Sunday afternoon!
The view from our picnic spot
Three Picnic Salads

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Austria: Climb Every Mountain...Labor Day in Vent

     Who would have thought that a simple ski vacation in 2000 would plant a seed in our hearts that ultimately would change our lives?

     In early 2000, Dear Husband planned a simple ski holiday to Europe.  After considerable research, he selected a small Austrian village, Vent, as our base.  This quaint Alpine village, in the mountains of Tyrol, doesn't provide the best skiing but, nonetheless, it caught our hearts.  Since that first visit, we have made almost a dozen return trips.  Dear Daughter learned to ski there.  We met a dear group of fellow skiers there and to this day continue to take annual ski trips together.

     All of our visits there have been during ski season.  Each year, we would wonder what it would be like to visit during the summer months...what it would be like to hike to the alpine huts that we could see from the chair lift.  This year, we got our chance.  Sometimes, it is great to experience new places.  But sometimes, it is also great to have a new experience in old, comfortable place.  That is exactly what we were hoping for when we choose Vent as our Labor Day weekend excursion.

     We knew exactly where to stay having stayed there numerous times over the past twelve years.  We knew exactly where to eat as the small village has incredible restaurants.  What we didn't know was whether or not Dear Daughter would be able to handle hiking in the mountains.  (At almost 11 years of age...she kicked our butts.)

     We left just after school on Friday and six hours later arrived at the Appartement Wildspitz in Vent.  The owner greeted us warmly and after settling in, we sat down in the restaurant for a late supper and our favorite Austrian beer, Stiegl.  We slept soundly and woke up to cloudy skies and cool temperatures.  Upon opening our door, we pulled a small bag away from the handle, which contained three brotchen (bread) for our breakfast.  We had a leisurely breakfast of bread, ham, cheeses and coffee and talked about where we should take our first walk.

     Since the weather was not the greatest, we opted to stay in the valley.  We knew of a path that would take us along the valley to another tiny village.  If the weather continued to deteriorate, we could always stop at the Roffenhof for lunch (another favorite).  We started the hike at 10:30 and were absolutely amazed with how many people were out walking.  It was more crowded on September 1st than it ever was in January.  We made it to Roffen in forty-five minutes.  Dear Daughter was doing well and since it was still early, we forged on past Roffen.  Dear Daughter was amazed at seeing all of the sheep, bells dangling from necks, creating a symphony of sound as they grazed.  About ninety minutes into the walk, it started to snow lightly.  Snow in was incredible.

Snow on September 1st!

     Not wanting to do too much on the first day, we headed back to the Roffenhof for lunch.  Dear Daughter had done well - rarely complained and seemed to have a great time.  We lunched on Kaseknodel suppe - another favorite.  Kaseknodel is a cheese dumpling that has been lightly pan fried. It floats in a warm broth garnished with sprinkles of chives.  Shortly, after finishing our lunch, I looked out the window to see one of our Dear Friends coming into the restaurant.  We have skied with him for over ten years and it was such a welcome surprise to see him.  After a short visit, we walk back into Vent together and set a time to meet later that evening for a drink.

     After our wonderful meal at the Wildspitz and drinks with our friend, we all slept soundly that first night.  We woke up on Sunday to better weather and Dear Daughter informed us that today was the day that we would hike to our first alpine hut.  After breakfast, we took the chairlift to the middle of the mountain.  We got a kick out of seeing the chairlift operator...the same chairlift operator since our initial visit in 2000...not looking any different...never smiling and always smoking.  I doubt he recognizes us but we always get a kick seeing him!

     From the middle station, we look up...and up...and up to see the Breslauer Hutte.  The sign says that it will take 90 minutes to get there and it is all uphill.  Dear Daughter's face falls and I hear her mumble, "And people willingly get out of bed for this?" but we trudge forward nevertheless.  We make it to the top in about 100 minutes and we were all actually in pretty good spirits going up.  The view was spectacular and it isn't often that you get to make a snowman in September.

Breslauer Hutte

    Back in Vent later that afternoon, we soaked our tired and weary legs in the pool and decided that we could walk no further than downstairs for our dinner.  Exhausted, but totally happy - we fell soundly asleep at 9:30.

     On Monday, the schedule was very much the same.  We had scheduled a walk to the Hochjoch Hospitz, a hut operated by the brother of our landlord.  The fairly easy, two hour walk provided us with many awesome views but the uphill climb for the last thirty minutes left us totally exhausted.  Again, Dear Daughter and I had our strength renewed with steaming bowls of soup.  Dear Daughter, either recuperated or just happy with the prospect of finishing the first official hiking trip, led us down the path in record time.  Dear Husband and I were totally exhausted by this time.

     We learned that many of Vent's restaurants were closed on Monday.  Normally, if we encountered too many closed restaurants, my stress level would spike..."Where would we eat?"  But not in Vent.  We turned around and walked into the Hotel Alt Vent and ran into the same waiter who has greeted us for many years.  He actually seemed to recognize us, shook our hands warmly, led us to a table and asked us how long we would be in Vent.  After a wonderful meal, he brought over two small glasses of schnaps and told us how glad he was that we visited the town again.  It was the perfect ending to a perfect trip.

     So sometimes the old places can bring new experiences.  Dear Daughter knocked our socks off with her hiking ability and we loved being back in the mountains once more.

     I wanted to make Kaseknodel and tried once I got home...only to make a total mess.  So here is another dish that we wanted to have in Vent but then thought about just having it at home once we returned.  We had it last night and were immediately escorted back in time.

Cheese Fondue